Saturday, August 27, 2011

Daring Bakers do Candy!!!

The August 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage,Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake?!. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for the Daring Bakers because the good folks at offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy!

Wow, what a great challenge.  My biggest complaint is that I didn’t have enough time to possibly try all the different recipes they included with the challenge.  That being said, I’m putting them in the file, because I intend to try most, if not all of them.  My second, somewhat smaller complaint is this:  Tempering Chocolate in August???  I thought my chocolate would never cool enough for proper tempering, but more on that in a moment.

I should just say that among the things I most want to accomplish in the kitchen, high-quality candy making has always been high on the list.  I love to bake, but when I see those rows and rows of beautiful candies at places like See’s and Van Duyn, I just can’t help but feel the desire to replicate them myself.
But, candy making is very often an exact science.  Temperatures must be carefully controlled.  Humidity can’t be too high for certain recipes.  Ambient temperature can’t be too high for certain recipes.  August?  High humidity and temperature.  But, the challenge was set forth, so I endured to the end, the bittersweet end.
While I have successfully made different candies in the past, where I have been most challenged is getting that shiny, crisp, perfectly finished chocolate shell that is the hallmark of a good candy maker.  I’ve attempted to temper before with poor results.  I think now those previous failures were caused by using the wrong chocolate for tempering.  Another factor contributing to that failure was likely poor temperature management due to poor quality thermometers.
This time, I chose the best quality chocolate I could get locally (Lindt) and tested 5 different thermometers for accuracy prior to putting them to work.  By the way, two of those thermometers are now part of the local landfill program (don’t worry, no mercury was put in the trash) – they were off so badly that they didn’t even technically qualify as thermometers.  Working with a relatively small amount of chocolate, which I knew might make temperature management more difficult, I was able to attain a near perfect temper.  I wish my photos did more justice to the finished product, but what I got was shiny, didn’t melt easily after setting and snapped when bitten into.  The only flaws were cosmetic flaws such as some minor blooming that appeared likely due to my lack of perfect temper.  But I was very satisfied, nonetheless.
Stepping aside from the chocolate for a moment, I decided to make the Sponge Candy for the non-chocolate portion of the challenge.  Where I’m from, you only get this on the coast and they call it Sea Foam.  It’s usually sold in a variety of jagged shapes and sizes and dipped in milk or dark chocolate.  It’s really good stuff.  Since Mrs. GT has a sweet spot in her heart for Sea Foam, I decided to oblige her.
The Burned Blob
I chose a recipe that I notice some other chose from the Wilde in the Kitchen blog.  I trusted that her testing of the recipe would lead to better results for me.  Well, that is if you remember to take the clear plastic cover off the probe of your thermometer before you cook the candy.  You see, that cover acts as a thermal barrier, which means your temperature is actually higher than what your thermometer says.  Yeah, not good.  By the time my FIRST batch was done, I could tell something was wrong.  It seemed too dark and when I added the additional ingredients, it about exploded out of the pot, followed by a nearly immediate seize that barely allowed me to get it out of the pan.  When cooled, it tasted burnt.  In the trash it went (along with those dang thermometers!).   Prior to batch #2, I finally noticed the now melted plastic cover on the temp probe.  I cut it away from the probe (it had melted to it), and attempted again.  This time, to be extra safe, I pulled it from the stove about 5 degrees shy of the finish temp.  Things looked much different, and much better this time around.  Nothing smelled burnt, the mass didn’t grow exponentially when I added the final ingredients, and I had a longer (though still brief) working time.  Final result?  A little off of the Sea Foam we get here, but very tasty nonetheless.  It was nice to see it work.
A Much Better Result - Proper Temperature Control
Back to the chocolate.  This challenge included a contest for the most creative and delicious candy.  I had several ideas go through my mind, but ultimately , I felt the need to work with bacon.  Not just any bacon mind you, but candied bacon.  Folks, if you are not familiar with candied bacon, well, let me just say you are missing out on one darn fine treat.  Basically you take slices of bacon, coat them in brown sugar, then bake them.  When they’re done and cooled, you get a sweet, crispy, mapley piece of candy/meat heaven.  But candifying bacon wouldn’t be enough.  I wanted to incorporate this into my newly tempered chocolate.  So, I decided to mix the two together, in a bonbon/truffle form. 
Candied Bacon - Give it a Try - You'll be Hooked!
I had 2 ideas for a filling – one for a dark chocolate ganache with finely chopped pieces of candied bacon mixed in, and one for a maple cream with pieces of candied bacon mixed in.  I would line candy molds with tempered chocolate, fill them with the ganache/bacon or maple cream/bacon and close them up for a nice presentation.  In the end, I would say the maple/bacon version was the best, but the chocolate version came in a darn close second.  The pieces of bacon lent an interesting semi-crunchy texture, along with a little saltiness.  As the candies sat, the flavors melded a bit more and were even better a few days later.
Adding the last of the 'seed' chocolate
The tempering process was a bit touchy, but I came up with a decent Williams Sonoma digital thermometer that was sensitive enough and accurate enough to give me good measurments for the small batch of chocolate I tempered.  Due to the heat outside and in the house, it took forever for even the small amount of chocolate to cool from the initial melt down to the 2nd temperature in the tempering phase.  In fact, I was starting to toy with putting in the refrigerator.  But, patience paid off and I finally got the temperature down.  A quick heat to the final working temperature and I was ready to coat my molds.  All in all, the tempering was not the scary unforgiving process I had come to think of it as.  I learned some new skills that gave me the success I wanted.  By the way, one of my books noted that before you coat your candy molds with chocolate, polish them with a dry cotton ball to help assure a very smooth surface for your finished chocolates.
Waiting Patiently to Cool Down
I'm sorry to say I don’t have photos of the maple cream/bacon versions – they honestly didn’t last long enough to photograph since I only made a small number.  I did get photos of the chocolate ganache/bacon version in two different candy molds.  If you look closely, you’ll see those lovely pieces of bacon.
Candied Bacon gets Stirred into the Ganache
I would recommend, by the way, if you ever choose to make candied bacon for an application such as this, take whatever amount of candied bacon you need for your recipe, and at least quadruple it.  I guarantee you’ll need it around to keep from gobbling up the pieces you really need.
Thanks again for a great challenge.  This was one of my favorites so far.  Thanks for getting me back into tempering again.  Now I know I can make it work, so I’ll be certain to use this technique again in the future.

Be sure to check out the recipes, techniques and the other Daring Bakers that have participated in this month's challenge.  You can find it all at The Daring Kitchen website.